Title: Cotton Reboot!
Developer: ININ Games
Release Date: July 20, 2021
Reviewed On: PS4
Publisher: ININ Games
Cotton is a relatively lesser-known shmup series from the ’90s, considered a true cult classic in the relatively obscure cute ’em up subgenre, and most notable as a Sega Saturn import release that continues to fetch ridiculous prices on auction sites. Cotton Reboot! is an arranged remastered remake of Cotton: Fantastic Night Dreams, with the release containing both the modern reboot and the 1993 home version. Although this reboot was released in Japan for Switch and PS4 earlier this year, it now makes its way to a global audience.
Cotton Reboot! presents the very first game in the series to a whole new audience, and for the very first time in many regions. Right from the main menu, the arrange mode serves as the reboot itself, while the classic version is provided in the form of the extremely rare Sharp X68000 port. More than just graphical differences, these versions play quite differently from each other in terms of both play mechanics and even level design.
Although it’s amazing to see the debut entry of Cotton getting preserved on modern gaming platforms, it’s worth noting that the sequels were far better games. Luckily, Cotton 2 and Cotton Boomerang, arguably the best games in the series, will be part of a Saturn compilation release for Switch and PS4 later this year, titled Cotton Guardian Saturn Tribute.
For more modern shmup fans, Cotton Reboot! will remind them of games like Death Smiles, a horizontal shooter with an emphasis on structured level design, and even some inventive bosses. Unfortunately, the reboot arranged version features completely remade graphics and sprites. While the quality of the artwork shines through in the character designs and even the backgrounds, things don’t come together quite as smoothly when in motion. The presentation is just too chaotic and busy, where it almost feels like you are playing a Pachinko machine rather than a shmup.
The various visual elements and HUD displays don’t mix cohesively. It can be challenging to keep up with the action or practice enemy patterns with enemy projectiles coming in all shapes and colors. Even as a reboot, the experience feels dated compared to how shmups have evolved, given how it is based on the original Cotton: Fantastic Night Dreams. Genre fans will certainly notice the lack of practicality in both the game design and visual presentation.
It would have been nice to have more options and settings, especially a training/practice mode, as seen in other shmup console releases. However, the game does have a comprehensive visual tutorial that explains everything with a comedic tone. Despite some challenges in the design and presentation, the shooting action and scoring are still quite engaging and deep. This can be especially fun in the Time Attack mode, where players take part in a decathlon of shooting.
The key gimmick here is the various colored crystals used to power up the various elemental magic attacks. Shooting at these crystals will allow your shots to diffuse and disperse in unique ways, and if you shoot at a crystal long enough, you can collect blackened crystals for a higher score bonus. It’s these crystals and how you use them which really spice up the shooting and scoring gameplay.
The Sharp X68000 is a legendary home computer in Japan, arguably the birthplace of the eroge visual novel genre we proudly cover here at Noisy Pixel. The platform became known for its rare and sought-after versions of games like Castlevania, so having the X68000 version of Cotton: Fantastic Night Dreams is quite cool.
It plays differently from the reboot game, and players might find the onscreen presentation to be a little less crazy and manageable. The main challenge with the classic version is that crystals don’t hover in the air as they do in the reboot. Instead, they need to be constantly shot at to remain airborne. However, visually, the classic version holds up quite nicely and is a great example of how the X68000 was once the cutting edge of 2D graphics on home systems.
Cotton Reboot! has a lot of charm and vibrancy in its presentation. The colorful character designs have personality, especially the protagonist Cotton and her maddening obsession with sweets and candies. There is definitely a sense of humor, offering a fun experience even when played casually. The music sounds great, too, especially the remixed tunes, although the unique chiptune style of the X68000 version is worth checking out.
Cotton Reboot! is one for the diehard shmup historian. The core experience is largely based on a dated shmup design, which will be noticeable to newcomers and genre veterans. It’s a welcomed preservation of a rare and oft-forgotten Japanese cult classic. Still, some of the choices in the visual presentation make the reboot experience far more uncomfortable than it needs to be. Nevertheless, better shooters are available and even better Cotton games on the horizon, making Cotton Reboot! one for the connoisseurs and collectors.
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